NEW YORK — California Chrome went home to the West Coast on Sunday with a bandaged right front foot — and no Triple Crown — after bumping another horse leaving the Belmont Stakes starting gate.
Steve Coburn, who co-owns California Chrome, was still smarting, too.
He spent the day making media rounds expounding on his postrace rant Saturday in which he said Belmont winner Tonalist and other horses in the field that didn't run in either of the first two Triple Crown races took "the coward's way out."
"It's not fair to these horses that are running to entertain these people in all three legs of the Triple Crown," Coburn said Sunday. "It's not fair to them to have somebody just show up at the last minute and run. I may have gone off half-cocked (Saturday), but that's the way I feel.
Coburn said he didn't care if people thought he was a sore loser.
"It wouldn't be fair if I played basketball with a child in a wheelchair because I got an unfair advantage," he said. "If your horse is good enough to run in the Belmont, where was he in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness? It says Triple Crown, not one out of two, one out of three or two out of three."
Under Coburn's premise, three horses would have been in the Belmont: California Chrome, General a Rod and Ride On Curlin. General a Rod finished seventh in the 11-horse field; Ride On Curlin did not finish.
California Chrome had smooth trips in winning the Derby and Preakness to set up a shot at racing's first Triple Crown in 36 years. But he had a rough go in the 1½-mile Belmont, getting a chunk of flesh torn from his right front hoof after bumping with Matterhorn coming out of the starting gate. California Chrome finished in a dead heat for fourth with Wicked Strong.
"It was kind of scary," trainer Art Sherman said. "You come back and see a horse bleeding from the foot. He's never had anything wrong with him. We've been awful fortunate."
The wound is superficial and should heal in two to three weeks, Sherman said. How much did it affect him in the race?
"Well, it couldn't have helped him any," Sherman said. "But… the horse has had (six straight previous wins) and had perfect trips. … You know racing luck means a lot."
It always has been common for horses to drop in and out of the Triple Crown series.
Horses are made eligible for the races in January. Owners and trainers of horses not nominated can pay a late fee of $6,000 in March to get in. The 20-horse field for the Derby is decided by a points system, with horses earning points for running in prep races. The Preakness and Belmont have maximum fields of 14, but no points system is used.
Tonalist was an early favorite for the Kentucky Derby but was forced to skip the race after he got a lung infection and missed a key qualifier, the Wood Memorial on April 5. His last race before the Belmont was May 10; he won the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park.
Tonalist trainer Christophe Clement told Newsday that to him, there is no controversy. "You can't change the Triple Crown rules." Owner Robert Evans refused to comment.